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Women in fintech: Driving value and generating results

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Our Women in Fintech Series returns with an interview featuring Izabella Gabowicz, Chief Operating Officer of Sensibill.

An innovator in the field of SKU-level data insights,Toronto, Ontario, Canada-based Sensibill made its Finovate debut in 2017 at FinovateFall. At the event, the company won Best of Show for its Insights solution that helps institutions identify and act upon revenue opportunities from on- and off-card purchase data.

David Penn caught up with Izabella Gabowicz to talk about her work with Sensibill, the importance of achieving a work-life balance, and why everyone benefits when women have a seat at the table when decisions are being made.

Tell us about yourself.

Izabella Gabowicz: I graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in Cognitive Science and AI, and I joined IBM as a developer in 2001. During my 14 years at IBM, I had the opportunity to work in the airline, banking, and telecommunication industries, improving customer and employee experiences via technology and processes, as well as normalizing data and interfaces to connect disparate systems across enterprises.

The lessons I learned from IBM, such as the importance of value creation, helped me transition into my next role at Sensibill where I became one of the founding team members. Moving from a global organization of a few hundred thousand to a startup of five was energizing. I contributed to product strategy, built client relationships and our client success division from zero, as well as shaped the company’s vision and organizational structure. Today, as COO, I’ve been directly involved in finalizing agreements and rolling out technology to large financial institutions and core banking providers. It’s been a rollercoaster ride, but an incredibly rewarding one.

Businesses need to have decision-makers who reflect and represent the people they serve, which is why it’s critical for women to also be part of the teams making the decisions.

When I’m not working, you’ll find me trying to stay physically active, which is often outside in nature where I feel connected. I enjoy spending time with my  family — whether that’s weekly dinners with my parents or walking through a nearby creek with my daughters. Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of making time to “refill my cup” in order to show up as my best self at work, while also approaching each new phase of my career as a learning opportunity.

What are some tips for balancing work and life?

Gabowicz: The reality is you can’t do that perfectly, and that’s okay. There’s this myth that successful women always have it all together, and that holds us back because we keep believing we should be able to do it all, all the time. Instead, let’s accept the fact that everything is a series of trade-offs. On the days that I’m pitching to an important client, I’m looking at a messy house – or my parents are helping with childcare so I can travel for business, or my partner is making me dinner when I’m putting in longer days to negotiate an agreement. Sometimes I get the balance right, sometimes I don’t. But giving myself permission to drop some of the balls I’m juggling from time to time and being kind to myself when they do has been game changing.

Why is it important for women to have a seat at the table?

Gabowicz: Businesses need to have decision-makers who reflect and represent the people they serve, which is why it’s critical for women to also be part of the teams making the decisions – at each level. While this concept hasn’t been successfully done at the top levels, technology companies are becoming more mindful of their efforts to be inclusive. Financial institutions have, however, made huge strides in including women – from the working teams that are designing the customer journeys and the leadership teams that are choosing the initiatives to be prioritized, to the board and executives who identify the strategic direction, mission, and corporate objectives. When you belong to the group that is being targeted for a product and/or service, often it can be easier to empathize with their needs and understand them. And since half of the population are women, having a seat at the table is that much more important.

For women who have a seat at the table, be yourself. There are so many of us who feel as if we have to be reserved and polished to be seen as respectable professionals. But I argue that women can be respected because of the concepts and thoughts they bring to the table, as well as their competence, while still feeling empowered to be themselves. And that might include being a little quirky and awkward at times, but that’s okay.

How can women having a seat at the table help drive personalization?

Gabowicz: The key to personalization is to avoid thinking of everyone in any targeted group as having the same thoughts, valuing the same things, and having all the same needs. To humanize the experience, we need to look at customers as microsegments. That requires analyzing additional data, aside from demographics, to inform messaging and advice. Harnessing deeper, contextual data like SKU-level insights can reveal interests, lifestyles, spending habits, and behaviors. This alternative data enables the financial institution to speak to customers on an individual level using language, messaging, and imagery that’s relevant to them, creating an emotionally compelling experience where the customer feels listened to and understood.

How can financial institutions benefit from harnessing SKU-level data?

Gabowicz: People typically don’t buy products for the sake of making a purchase; they buy them to solve a problem or satisfy a need. A financial institution has a myriad of products it can offer to its customers, involving cards, investments, loans, and so on. But the uptake won’t be there unless the institution is presenting an offer that is personalized, meaningful, and compelling to their customers, at the right time to fit their unique financial needs.

If a 360-degree view of a customer is only looking at their interaction patterns, but not the details of their spending and expenses, then there is a lot of rich information being left on the table.

Such details can help pinpoint micro-moments and tailor messages that attract and retain customers. For example, the bank or credit union might see two customers spend $100 at Costco, but SKU-level data can reveal customer A might be an expecting mother and B a small business owner. Messages and interactions will need to be personalized for individual financial needs, which can look very different person to person.

What advice would you share for women professionals looking to break into the field?

Gabowicz: What’s exciting to me about technology today is that “business” and “technology” are no longer separate. It’s not sufficient to build software that just meets basic requirements. There must be value created, the experience must be compelling, and companies must consider how they position the innovation in the market, onboard users, and explain its value proposition. Today’s technology jobs are not limited to writing code but can include designing the user experience, architecting systems, creating go-to-market plans, and more.

Future professionals should not shortchange any industry experience they have already amassed, but consider how they can leverage and sell it when looking for opportunities in tech. People are graduating every day with computer science and engineering degrees, and they need to work with talented professionals who can help them build products that serve the needs of all people. Together, they can create AI algorithms that are less susceptible to bias, considering all types of people in the training set.

As I think about my professional journey, I’ve learned the following:

  • There is substantial value in learning and growing — anything can be attainable, and there are always multiple paths to any one destination.
  • We’re all humans, which means we need connection, empathy, space to be ourselves, ease, and convenience. This knowledge can apply to building solutions for customers, fostering diversity in the workforce, or encouraging women building their careers to be as kind to themselves as they are to others.
  • And lastly, outcomes matter. You need to consider both data and behavioral psychology when building strategies to drive value and generate results that make a difference.

Read more insight like this on the Finovate blog >>

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